The Return -- Ch 1-3 by Kirayoshi

Disclaimer; Joss owns them, and after "The Gift", we must trust that he knows what he’s doing. Oh, and the sharp-eyed among you may recognize characters owned by DC Comics, and created by Neil Gaiman.
Author’s note; This is my alternate take on how things go after the season five cliffhanger from Hell. Spoilers for "The Gift". Duh. Shout out to Mad-Hamlet for advice, inspiration, and one kick-ass epilogue.
Archives;
Want, take, have.
Feedback; Yes please. Jim_D_Means@prodigy.net
Rating; PG-13(for angst)
Summary; The Slayer’s final sacrifice was just the end of Act 1.

| Ch 1-3 | Ch. 4-6 | Ch. 7-End |

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Return
By Kirayoshi

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Chapter Four

Old Man

"Old Man look at my life,
I’m a lot like you were.
Old man, look at my life,
Twenty four and there’s so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two.
Love lost, such a cost,
Give me things that don’t get lost.
Like a coin that won’t get tossed
Rolling home to you.

Old man, take a look at my life
I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me
The whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
And you can tell that’s true."

—Neil Young
"Old Man"

"Mr. Harris, Miss Emerson, it’s good to see you both here again," Doctor Turner greeted the young couple. She found herself smiling as she always did as she saw these two; she had never seen a couple so obviously in love with each other as these two. They had just announced their engagement, and Dr. Turner wished them both happiness. "I have the results of your physical, Miss Emerson--"

"Please," the auburn haired young woman interrupted the doctor, "call me Anya."

"And while we’re on the first name thing," her fiancé added, "call me Xander."

"Glad to, Xander, Anya," Dr. Turner answered, "as long as you call me Janet. Now then, Anya, you were complaining about some illness for the last few days?"

"Yes," Anya said. "Mostly in the morning. Which is a bit of an inconvenience, considering that I end up retching into a toilet every morning when I’d rather be having sex with Xander the moment he wakes up. He especially likes it when---"

"Ahn," Xander smiled, slightly embarrassed by her detailed descriptions of their private life, "remember that conversation we had about what you tell the doctor and what you don’t tell her?" Anya sagged back in her chair, displeased at having been silenced by Xander but willing to listen to him.

"Ah, well," Janet stammered slightly as she looked at her clipboard. She had examined Anya before, and spoke with her and Xander, and was convinced that she would never get used to Anya’s candid attitude toward sex. She pushed those thoughts out of he mind, and concentrated on the task at hand. "Well, Anya, you aren’t sick, there’s no sign of virus or infection, you’re in perfect health."

"But I can’t be," Anya protested. "If I’m in perfect health, why am I throwing up every morning?"

Janet smiled at Anya’s question. "The same reason women have been suffering morning sickness for tens of thousands of years, Anya. According to these results, you’re six weeks pregnant."

========

The reality of the doctor’s pronouncement hadn’t yet registered for Xander while he was sitting in his apartment. Pregnant. Anya was pregnant. She was going to be a mother.

He was going to be a father.

Anya had been skitting around their apartment in a flurry of activity. "We should try to find a bigger apartment before the baby comes, Xander. Unless you want to stay here."

"Uh, sure, Anya, anything you say," Xander muttered noncommittally.

Anya glanced back at Xander, an amused expression on her face. "Of course, we’ll need more room for various baby things. Y’know, the bassinet, the changing table, the Leer jet, that sort of thing."

"Yeah, no problem."

Anya huffed at her fiancée who was clearly not paying any attention to her. "And of course we’ll need to clear some space in the bedroom, for when Willow and Tara come over for our three-way lesbian orgies."

"Yeah, whatever."

At these words, Anya snatched a pillow from the sofa and threw it hard at Xander’s head. The sudden impact of the pillow knocked Xander off of his chair and onto his butt. "I knew you weren’t listening, Xander, you stinker!"

The sudden awareness of his girlfriend screaming at him like a banshee brought Xander out of his fugue state quickly. He scrambled to his feet and took Anya in his arms, stroking her hair gently, whispering assurances to her. "Hey, I’m sorry, Anya. It’s just that everything’s been piling up on me all at once. I mean we just buried one of my best friends two months ago, and now we’re gonna be parents. It’s just a lot to take in at once, y’know?"

"Yeah," Anya admitted. "I guess you’re right. But us being parents, it’s like the greatest thing that ever happened to me in over a thousand years. You and me, Dad and Mom. More than anything else in this world, this is what I want, to be your wife, to carry your child, breast-feed, change diapers, argue over allowances and curfews--"

"Stop, you’ve sold me," Xander raised his hands, chuckling lightly with his love. "And hey, it’s not that I don’t want to be a father, it’s just that I need to get used to it first, is all."

Xander sat back down, and Anya slowly lighted on Xander’s lap, her arms wrapped around his neck. "Is something the matter, Xander?" she asked.

Xander shook his head, dispelling the cobwebs as he considered his answer. "I dunno, Anya. It’s just that, that, well--we’re gonna be parents, in Sunnydale!"

Anya looked quizzically at Xander. "Uh, yeah, that was established by our doctor."

"Yeah, but in Sunnydale!" Xander almost shouted, then reined his voice in when he saw Anya wince. "I mean, we’re talking the Riviera of the undead. Do we want to raise a kid here? I might not get that job in Seattle, hon, so we may be stuck here."

"Hey, Xander," Anya assured him, rubbing his back as she spoke; she knew the effect this usually had on him. "It’ll be okay. Even if you don’t get the Seattle job, we still make enough between us to raise a kid. And I can’t think of anyone I’d trust more with my baby than you, Xander Harris."

Xander blushed slightly at Anya’s praise. "Yay me," he chuckled. "Xander Harris, construction worker, vamp fighter, father. Far cry from some loser who lived in his parents’ basement, eh?" He got up from his chair, ambled over to the kitchen and pulled a Coke out of the refrigerator. Anya observed him as he moved. His movements seemed slower, somehow; his shoulders sagged, his arms swung limply, like an older person. Like an old man.

Old man.

Anya walked slowly behind Xander, and wrapped her arms around his torso. "What is it really, Xand? Your dad?"

Xander lowered his head. "My dad. My dad, who liked to treat me like Rocky Balboa would treat that side of beef. You sure you want me for a dad?"

Anya leaned her head into the crook of Xander’s neck. "You don’t believe that you would hurt our baby?"

Xander shook his head vigorously. "No way! No way I’d ever hurt our baby!" Anya could feel his shoulders slump against hers. "But I’ll bet my dad said the same thing when Mom was pregnant with me. I dunno, Ahn. I’ve read conflicting reports on the subject. Some say that abused children tend to become abusive parents, some say that they’re less likely to be abusive, and some say there’s no real connection. I just don’t know, Anya."

"If you don’t know, honey," Anya soothed, "then let me tell you. I think I’m in a position to know you better than most people, not to mention that I’ve seen all types of humanity over the last thousand years before I ever met you. And I can say without fear of contradiction that you are the kindest, sweetest person I’ve ever met. I’ve seen the way you treat Dawn, the way you were there for Willow and Tara after Buffy’s death. I know you can handle being a parent." She nibbled his earlobe. "And I know that our child will love you as much as I do."

Xander felt strangely humbled at this woman’s devotion. He could easily see himself standing in the kitchen with Anya’s arms around him all day (or at least until they decided to move the action into the bedroom).

He knew almost a split second before it happened that the telephone was going to ring.

"Let the machine get it," Anya protested, but Xander reluctantly pulled away from her to answer the phone. "Don’t worry, Anya," he assured her, "I’ll just tell them we don’t want any." He answered the phone, in a false cheerful tone; "Xander Harris here."

"Alex?"

Only two people in the world ever called him ‘Alex’. And he wasn’t on good terms with either of them. "Hello, Dad," he murmured, only the barest veneer of civility in his voice.

"Hey son," his father said hesitantly. "I’m sorry if this is a bad time, but I need to ask you a favor."

A favor? Do ME a favor, ‘Dad’, Xander thought, put your hand on a downed powerline! "What is it?"

"Well, your mom and I are going away for a few months, and we wondered if you could look after the place. Y’know, keep the lawn mowed and watered, that sort of thing. I’d be willing to pay you for your trouble, say a couple hundred?"

Xander blinked suddenly; his father paying him for looking after his house? "Where are you and mom going?"

"Rehab." He said the word so plainly, but the word itself caused Xander to fumble to keep from dropping the receiver. "Son, your mom and I, we’ve screwed up a lot. We’ve owned up to that. We’re alcoholics, Alex, and we let things get too far. It’s gonna take a lot of time and effort on our part, but we’re getting help."

Xander just stood there, processing what his father said. "Wow," he breathed, unable to say anything more.

"Son," his father continued, "I don’t expect us to be a close family, but I guess we never were anyway. I just wanted to say," there was hesitation, and some deep sense of guilt, Xander could hear it on his end. "Xander, you’re not a loser. I’ve never said this to you before, and I’m a fool for not seeing it sooner, but you’ve done good. Your mom and I, we--we’re proud of you, son. Damn proud."

Xander breathed in deeply, unsure how to handle his father’s praise. He could feel a tear welling up in his eye as he stammered to his father; "W-wow, Dad. I’m -- I’m speechless! I, uh, yeah, sure, I’d be glad to watch over the place for you. I assume you stopped mail and the paper already, right?"

"Yeah, taken care of."

"Good. I’ll look in on the place, keep it cleaned up, that sort of thing. Hey, you know when you and Mom are getting back from rehab?"

"We should be out of the clinic in three or four months," Mr. Harris answered.

"Hey, when you get out, you wanna get together with Anya and me? We kinda wanted to talk to you guys, tell some good news--"

Anya grabbed the receiver from his hand and shouted into it; "We’re getting married, Mr. Harris, and I’m having Xander’s baby!"

"ANYA!" Xander shouted, "I wanted to ease them into it!" Taking the receiver back, he said to his dad, "Sorry ‘bout that. Uh, that was Anya, my fiancée."

"Sounds like a lively girl," his father laughed lightly. "Congratulations. And that just gives us another reason to clean up our act; we wanna be clean and sober for our grandchild."

Xander smiled despite himself. "Hey, good luck. They take visitors? Anya and I’ll be glad to visit."

"I think they do have scheduled visits. I’ll let you know."

"Hey, when do you guys have to go, anyway?"

"In two days."

Xander swallowed a lump in his throat. "I’ll look after the place for you. Good luck."

"You too, Alex," Mr. Harris answered.

"Hey, call me Xander. All my friends do."

Silence, then; "Am I your friend now? I know I’ve been a crappy father, you sure you want me to be your friend now?"

"I’d like that, yeah," Xander fought back a wave of emotions. "You two take care now."

"We will. See you on the other side."

"I’d like that. ‘Bye."

After hanging up the phone, Xander shuddered, still coming to grips with recent events. Anya smiled at him, a knowing gleam in her eyes. "Still having doubts regarding your family credentials?"

Xander chuckled, his laughter becoming a healing balm. "Maybe I’m not so hopeless as I thought."

"Good," Anya nodded. "Because we have a more serious problem. Y’see, babies need a lot of things, like cradles, changing tables, bassinets, that sort of thing, and well," She couldn’t finish the statement.

Xander suspected what was bothering her, but wanted to hear the words. She swallowed hard and continued; "Well, most of these things tend to come embellished with, uh, b-bunnies."

"Sorry, hon," Xander laughed, "you’re gonna have to get used to the idea."

"I guess," she puffed a resigned sigh. "Especially when Willow and Tara give me their baby shower gifts. You know they’ll do that."

"Hey, you could start small," Xander suggested. "Some Bugs Bunny cartoons at first, work your way up from there."

Anya shook her head, amazed at Xander’s ability to show a sense of humor in any circumstance. "I do love you, Xander Harris," she demurred as she draped her arms around his shoulders, taking him in for a slow, relaxed kiss.

"And I love you, Anya. And I can’t wait to meet our kid."

"If it’s a boy," she insisted, "we call him Alex."

Xander thought for a second. "Okay." His expression turned serious. "And if it’s a girl," he added, "I want to name her Buffy."

Anya nodded. "Buffy Alexis Harris. I like that." She leaned forward, kissing him again. "Y’know, pregnant women get cravings, and I got one right now."

"Oh?" Xander teased. "Pickles and ice cream?"

"No, silly," she answered, "you and me, naked and under the covers."

She whooped happily as Xander lifted her in his arms. "I think we can arrange that," he announced as he carried her into the bedroom.

========

The gaunt figure in the duster jacket stood by the entrance of his crypt, taking a swig of some stale beer. Bloody Foster’s, he groused, the Australian beer that, if you offered it to an Aussie, he’d fry your liver for breakfast. Not that he could choose his alcohol, it just happened to be what he could lift from the mini mart. He chuckled at the thought; most anti-shoplifting security measures involve the merchant’s ability to see the shoplifter in the store’s strategically placed mirrors.

Of course, when you cast no reflection, that rather defeated the whole exercise.

He scanned the cemetery, his eyes falling on that same plot of land some hundred feet away. The one area in the entire cemetery where he never ventured.

The plot where she rested.

He argued with himself that he was maintaining the sanctity of her resting-place by avoiding it. After all, it wasn’t like she wanted him around in life, why should she want him around after her death? But on closer examination, he realized that he was simply being a coward. No matter what she ever thought of him, he simply couldn’t take the thought of a world without her.

"Hostile 17!" an authoritative voice barked behind him. "Hands where I can see them, don’t move!"

The blond vamp raised his hands slowly, turned to the man behind him and chuckled. "First off, mate," he smirked, "the name’s Spike. Your little soldier boy clique’s deader than the parrot on Monty Python, and I still have that little chip in my head, so there’s no reason to give me a hard time."

Graham stood his ground, a crossbow aimed at Spike’s heart. "Right now, I have no idea who are my friends and who are my enemies."

"Yoo-hoo," Spike announced, raising his hand. "Enemy over here!"

"Very funny, Spike," Graham countered. "Truth is, I’m here to investigate reports that the Initiative has been reestablished."

"Oh, bugger me for a pack of smokes!" Spike stormed around his crypt door briefly. "Not those wankers again! I thought that Uncle Sam gave up on those testosterone boys!"

"If they are back, Spike," Graham replied, "they’re back illegally, without government sanction." He paused, his face a mask, hiding his deepest fears. "I also wanted you to do me a favor."

"Oh, that’s rich," Spike chuckled. "After all you sods did for me, you want me to do you a solid? Do us both a favor and go piss off a vamp who can fight back!"

"I’m serious, Spike," Graham shouted. He knew that Colonel Mackenzie wouldn’t approve of Graham using Spike for this mission if she was aware of his existence, but he felt that the desperate ploy was still the only way to find out what he needed to know. "I know that you’re not a typical vamp. I even know that you have some emotional bond with Buffy Summers. That’s why I need you to help me."

Spike regarded the soldier with a searching eye. He sniffed, hoping to smell some sweat on his brow, a sign that he was lying to him, that he was afraid of being found out. He smelled nothing out of the ordinary with him, and decided to play along. "I’m listening."

Graham explained his concerns; "From what little intell I have, former members of the Initiative have been contacted within the last two months. The first such contact took place two days after Buffy’s funeral. I took the liberty to examine any coroner’s reports regarding her death, and they all listed her death as an accident."

"Yeah," Spike harrumphed, "she accidentally did a swan dive into an interdimensional vortex, accidentally saving all of creation in the process."

"I’m just telling you what I read," Graham answered. "Of course, I also found out that the coroner who examined her was also a member of the Initiative. That’s why I need you to do something for me."

Spike crooked his head. "Yeah? What for?"

"As a vampire, you possess a heightened sense of smell. I need you to sniff around Buffy’s grave."

"What do you think I’ll find?"

Graham breathed quietly, "It’s what I think you won’t find that worries me."

Spike sighed deeply. "Okay, let’s do it." He slowly made his way to the grave he didn’t have the guts to visit before. He paused to pay his respects to the grave of Joyce Summers, who lay in her eternal rest next to her daughter. He then noticed the stone over Buffy’s grave. "She saved the world, a lot," he snickered. "I’ll bet Red wrote that." He looked around the grave site, not knowing what to expect. He then stood still, sniffed, and concentrated.

He took a second, tentative sniff. Graham stood by silently. Spike didn’t say anything, he was just quiet for a few seconds then released the air he had been holding.

The hair on the back of Graham’s neck stood up as Spike slowly turned his head to face him. His expression hadn’t changed at all, indeed he looked exactly the same. Kind of an annoyed, put upon tone with a slight sneer tugging at the corner of his lips. But... something told Graham be better start praying that the chip didn’t break down in the next ten seconds.

"You...utter...bastards." Spike said very, very quietly. Almost a whisper.

Spikes figure blurred for a second. When he...returned to normal...Graham was aware of a quiet creaking sound. It grew...little by little...then with a loud crack the tree behind the headstone split in half.

Graham looked from the tree and back to Spike who had materialized right in front of him, his nose less centimeters away from his own.

"Where is she?" Spike whispered, almost tonelessly.

Graham gulped hard, saying, "If I’m right, S-Spike, Buffy was never buried here. I believe that the Initiative have her corpse, and are preparing to reanimate her. They’re using her to restart the ADAM experiments."

"If that’s the case, mate, then they die," Spike purred, "or...chip or no chip...You die." He took a few steps back. "C’mon soldier boy. We have to tell the others."

As they walked from the cemetery Spike slapped Graham on the soldier in a very friendly away.

"Got a new name for you soldier boy." He said. "Hostile #2. Which of course means there is a Hostile #1 but...if we don’t get him...I’m not exactly picky. Get the drift?"

No other words were spoken between the two of them. They knew that they had to contact Buffy’s friends tomorrow night. Graham had to shut down an inhuman experiment, and make sure that his friend Riley wasn’t involved. Before Spike could lay his hands on him.

Spike, for his part, was unspeaking, unsmiling, almost a frozen mask of rage. He too had a mission, and woe to anyone who dared to stand in his way. Spike had to avenge this blasphemy against a great heroine.

He had to insure that Buffy was allowed to rest in peace. Nothing else mattered to him.

========

He cowered in his basement room as his parents started in again. The drunken accusations, the slurred obscenities, the breaking dishes and slamming doors. Yeah, all too familiar. He figured that if he just sat out of it, he’d be okay.

But this fight seemed different. The voices seemed different. His mother’s voice, especially, it sounded like...

Anya.

He slipped out of the basement, and peered out the door. He saw himself and his wife, his Anya, fifteen years older, and they were going at it. He was blaming his son for screwing up in school, for not pulling down straight A’s.

He heard his own voice calling his own son a loser.

Xander slowly knelt down behind the wall, his grief a slow and consuming thing. It was true, he thought. He was as bad as his own dad. A worthless, abusive, good-for-nothing—

"It’s not true," a rough voice spoke to him. Xander turned around and saw a strange, yet familiar figure. A vaguely feminine shape, with muddied dreadlocks and a feral expression on her face. A familiar glow emerged from the Primal Slayer’s eyes, and an easy smile graced her lips. Somehow, she carried something of Buffy in her.

Hmph, not at all like the way I saw her last time.

"It’s not true," she repeated. "You aren’t like that. Look." Her words were a command, and Xander was compelled to obey. He looked around the basement wall again, and saw his older self. He was sitting at the dinner table with a young boy that could only be his son, and the two of them were working with a Revell model starship Enterprise. The young boy looked frustrated.

"Darn," he grumped, "I can never get these labels on straight."

"Hey, don’t stress it, AJ," the older Xander assured his son (AJ, Xander thought? Alex Jr.?) "I could never deal with those things either. First I would soak them in water, then I’d take them off with a tweezers, then they’d break before I could put them on the model. Don’t worry about it, son, you’re doing better than I ever did." His son smiled at the words of reassurance, and continued to work on the model.

Xander felt a lightness in his heart he had seldom experienced. Was this his future? Was that really his son? The Primal Slayer spoke to him; "You won’t turn out like your father. Because of this," she handed him what looked like a human heart. "Take it, look after it. I’ll be back for it." He took the heart, and felt strangely dizzy. He succumbed to the vertigo, and—

He woke up in his bed, Anya sleeping contentedly at his side, cuddling next to him. The dream was still fresh in his mind.

His right arm absently eased its way around Anya’s shoulder and held her close to him. Despite the assurances that he would never become his father, he felt worried. The Primal Slayer. If he was dreaming about her, were Willow and Giles as well?

He’d have to find out. And soon. If the Primal Slayer was back, there could be trouble ahead.

Outside of the waking world, the Sandman sat back. His work was done for now. His dreams were sent. He could intervene no more in their lives, he could only hope that the three could decipher the clues he sent them in their dreams.

The soul of a hero relied on it.

Chapter Four
Weird Science

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"From my heart and from my hand,
Why don’t people understand
My intentions?

Weird Science!

Plastic tubes and pots and pans,
Bits and pieces and
Magic from my hands will make

Weird Science!

Things we’ve never seen before,
Behind bolted doors
Of my own imagination

Weird Science!

Not what teacher said to do,
Making dreams come true
Living tissue born flesh

Weird Science!

Plastic tubes and pots and pans,
Bits and pieces and
Bits and pieces!"

—Oingo Boingo
"Weird Science"

========

Every time he entered the intensive care ward, he had to steel himself for the sight of the body on the gurney. How he had hurt her in life, and how he could not afford to fail her now.

The last time he saw her, she was standing on the tarmac watching his copter lift away. He didn’t know if she would answer his ultimatum, but he was too scared to speak to her. He knew from the moment he forced her to chose between his life and her own that the relationship was over. And Riley Finn, the Gutless Wonder, simply couldn’t face her.

Now he stood beside the gurney, observing her corpse.

Not that anyone could recognize the form and person of Buffy Summers inside the thick layer of gauze wrappings that mummified her, or the maze of tubes that snaked their way into her lifeless body. Nutrients were being forced into her to supplement her useless muscles. Protoplasm was injected into her veins to simulate heart functions. A synthetic osteoblast solution was introduced to repair her shattered bones. Miraculously, her autonomic functions--her heartbeat and her breathing--had been successfully restarted. But she was not truly alive. Not yet.

The door behind Riley opened, and a gaunt figure in a lab coat walked in. "Any change, Mr. Finn?"

"Negative, Dr. Brahams," Riley answered. "Subject is still responding to the artificial osteoblasts and the neurosurgical nanobots, but she still hasn’t attained consciousness."

Dr. Brahams scowled briefly. "If only we had some of her blood on hand," he mused. "A simple transfusion may be all that is required to restore her."

"We have her blood type on file, Dr--" Riley was cut off in mid-sentence by a curt swipe of the doctor’s hand.

"No, my son," he whispered in a gravelly voice. "Not her blood type, her blood. Her genetic factors may be the key to her resurrection."

Riley thought briefly. He hid his emotions from the doctor, behind a thin veneer of professionalism. Inside, he seethed. They were so close to bringing her back, but now there was no way to complete her resurrection. Unless--

It was a dangerous prospect, but perhaps-- "How close do those factors have to be to work?"

"Very close," Brahams answered. "A bare minimum of 80% accuracy would be required."

Riley looked thoughtfully at the doctor. "Well, she does have a sister..."

=========

Xander and Anya had called Giles that morning, asking if they could speak to him that night. Giles was surprisingly eager to speak to him about the dream. He had to wonder if he had suffered through a similar dream. He stood before the former Watcher’s front door, steeling the courage to speak to him on this matter. He leaned toward Anya and kissed her for luck.

"Hey guys," a familiar and welcome voice greeted the young man before he could knock on Giles’ door. He and Anya turned and saw Willow and Tara walking toward the steps. "How are things with you?"

"Hey Wills, Tara," Xander smiled. "How are my two favorite fish without bicycles?"

"We’re good," Tara said simply. She glanced at Willow, who nodded slightly. "Yeah, not too terrible." The young blond wiccan wasn’t ready to tell the others of her plans to leave Sunnydale, and Willow was just as glad not to deal with that reality just yet. Whatever short time they had together was time she would cherish. "What brings you guys here, anyway?"

Xander blinked suddenly at Willow’s innocent question; the same question had occurred to him regarding the two witches. "Ah, you know, just here to harass the Watcher. We don’t have a major league baseball team here, so we gotta make our own fun, right?"

Willow looked at her childhood friend, her eyes calm and unreadable. "You’ve had a Primal Slayer dream too, huh?"

Xander sighed slightly. He knew he couldn’t pull one over on his closest friend. "Yeah. You too, eh?"

"Yeah, something like that," Willow admitted. "You think Giles had one?"

"It’s possible," Anya shrugged non-committally. "I guess there’s only one way to find out."

Xander quietly knocked on the door, which was soon opened by a haggard looking Giles. "Oh, hello. Come in, please," he ushered the younger people into his home. "Please, make yourselves comfortable. Would you care for something to drink?"

"Decaffeinated tea, please," Anya said brightly as she cuddled next to Xander on the easy chair. Willow and Tara nodded at her suggestion as they sat close to each other on the couch, and Giles repaired to the kitchen to fetch the tea.

"Mr. Giles," Tara asked gently as Giles returned with a tray of teacups, "when are you and Dawn going to England?"

Giles paused briefly at the question. "I’m not certain, actually, Tara. I was offered a position within the Council, and Dawn has said that she wants to leave Sunnydale. I don’t really know if it’s right to take her away from here so soon after all she’s been through."

"Can’t say I blame her," Xander admitted. "Inside of two months, she lost her entire family. Oh, that reminds me, how much trouble did Mr. Summers give you?"

"Not too much," Giles admitted. "We had a meeting of the minds."

"In other words, you bounced him off a few walls."

Giles stared hard at Xander, but didn’t deny anything he had said. He simply snorted an acknowledgement. "Suffice it to say that he won’t contest his late ex-wife’s wishes."

"Say," Anya asked suddenly, "where’s Slayer Jr. anyway?"

"Oh, Dawn’s visiting some friends tonight. I told her to hurry straight home and stick to well-lit streets." He stared into his tea, as though he sought answers in its dark surface. "I’m worried about her," he admitted calmly. "She’s so dead set on us moving to England, but I’m not sure that simply uprooting Dawn from the home we’ve both known for the last five years is the solution. Not for either of us. I wish I could talk to her more freely about her family’s deaths. To get her to open up. But all I can do is let her mourn in her own way."

"And be there for her when she needs you," Tara answered solemnly.

"And we’ll be there for her as well," Willow added. "We’re her family too." Xander and Anya nodded silently at Willow’s words.

"Aye, that you are," Giles answered, cracking a slight smile. "That we all are." He looked at the faces of his surrogate family, and the heaviness that had enveloped his heart for so long lifted, if only for a while. He sipped his Earl Grey, and changed the subject. "Now then, Xander, if I’m not wrong, you and Anya have some news to report."

Xander sputtered, almost choking on his tea. "How-how did you know?"

"I noticed that Anya had called for decaf," Giles observed. "And the way she’s been surprisingly quiet this evening. Am I wrong in my assumptions, Anya?"

Anya blushed crimson as she took another draught of her tea. "No, Giles, you’re not. Guys," she announced to the others, as she took Xander’s hand in her own, "Xander and I are having a baby."

Willow and Tara sat quietly at Anya’s words. Giles, however, rose admirably to the occasion. He walked over to Anya and grasped her hands in his. "Congratulations, my friends. Congratulations indeed."

"Yeah, Congrats guys," Willow added, embracing her long-time friend Xander while Tara gave Anya a welcoming hug. Willow even ended up hugging Anya, who received her embrace warmly. Whatever animosity they ever shared before was no longer a major concern between them. Willow was truly happy for Anya, and was glad that the former vengeance demon was part of Xander’s life.

After the impromptu group hug dispersed, and they all sat down again, Giles continued, "Now then, I suppose that the announcement of your impending parenthood is not the main reason you’re here." The others looked around, realizing what he was about to say. "Before you ask, yes, I know that you, Willow, and you, Xander, both had Slayer dreams. As did I. I must assume that our dreams are related in some way."

Willow looked at Xander, searching his eyes for some sign. Xander looked at his friend again, and nodded. "Yeah, something like that," Willow started. "In my dream, Tara was painting designs on my back, when--"

"Back-painting again?" Anya quipped. "What is it about you and back painting, is this a fetish with you?" Four pairs of eyes glared at Xander’s fiancée. Anya suddenly shrunk back into Xander’s lap, saying, "Right, private conversation stuff. Sorry."

"If I may," Willow glanced back at Anya, "anyway, then I felt something, some shift in weight, and when I looked back, I saw her. The Primal Slayer. She was crouched over me, wearing a Superman t-shirt. She took my hand, and placed it on her chest," she indicated where she had touched the phantom Slayer, over her heart. "She said something to me, ‘Take this’, she said, she’d be coming back for it."

"Take what?" Tara asked.

"I don’t know, honey," Willow answered. "All I know is that some-- some thing entered me. Some kind of energy, a presence, a, a, oooh--" She furrowed her brow in frustration at being unable to explain her dream. "It was like a living part of her. I wish I could describe it better."

"Her soul, perhaps?" Giles suggested. "Or a part of it?"

"Yeah," Willow grabbed onto that line of reasoning quickly. "Like a piece of her soul." She smiled in realization. "Yeah, the last time I dreamed about the Primal Slayer, she took my soul from me. Maybe she’s returned it?"

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "Like in my dream. She tore my heart out in the first dream. But last night, I got a look at me with my son, like ten years from now, and then she gave me a human heart."

"And in my dream," Giles nodded, "I met her at Buffy’s gravestone," he paused in recollection, "where she placed her hand on my head, and I felt some sort of-- of energy flow through me. She had entrusted me with a part of her, her mind I believe. She said, I had to keep it for her, that I would know when the time comes."

"Just once," Xander grumbled, "would it be too much to ask that our shared dreams not be so cryptic? Just for the novelty factor." Anya, sitting between Xander’s knees, grasped his hand in sympathy.

Willow shrugged her shoulders at Xander’s words. "Sounds pretty straightforward to me. I dunno, it kinda feels like a farewell message." The others sat silent at her words. "I mean it, guys. I think it was like a goodbye from Buffy, y’know? Like she was thanking us for being there, for being her support system."

Giles shook his head and smiled; was this the same timid young girl who befriended Buffy nearly five years ago? Not for the first time, he acknowledged the debt that he and the others would always owe Buffy Anne Summers. Not just for saving them, not even for giving everything she had, up to and including her life, to keep the world turning another day. But for enriching their lives, for making this disparate group of people a true family, for bringing out the best in each life she touched.

She showed a true mirror to Willow Rosenberg’s soul, revealing it as the bright and beautiful thing it was. She brought her out of shadow and into the light where she would flourish.

She gave friendship to Xander Harris, whose life was sadly lacking even the most basic of human contact and taught him to love. Not just to lust, but to love. And to love himself.

She taught Rupert Giles by her own example to think for himself, not to merely repeat for rote the tired doctrine of the Watchers Council. She showed him that it was good to say ‘no’ to the ones in charge.

"Soul, heart and mind," Giles intoned aloud, not caring if the others were listening. "I don’t care what the vision in the desert revealed to you, Buffy, you were wrong. Death was not your gift. Your heart, your soul, your mind, these were your gifts. You were your gift, to us and to the world."

"A-smeggin’-men!" Xander replied emphatically, as he raised his teacup. "To Buffy Summers. She didn’t just save our lives, she made them worth saving."

"To Buffy," the others chorused. They sat together in silence for ten seconds. Somehow, the silent memory of their parted friend -- sister, daughter, beloved -- seemed appropriate.

The chime of a doorbell broke the silence. Giles answered the door, and was met by someone he hadn’t expected to see, nor did he particularly wish to see him again.

Nevertheless, he was British, which meant he was genetically disposed to politeness. "Graham," Giles greeted the young man who rang his doorbell. "Do come in, please. Would you care for some tea?"

"Sorry, Giles," the blond soldier waived his offer. "I’m not here on a social call." He saw the other Scoobs gathered in Giles’ living room. "I’m glad you’re all here, you need to know this."

"What’s the deal, khaki boy?" Xander glowered at Graham. He still didn’t trust anyone with a military rank.

"It’s about the Initiative," Graham said plainly. "They’ve regrouped, back in their old bunker. They’re trying to restart the ADAM project."

Giles did a double take as the news registered. "Dear lord," he muttered, "those fools aren’t trying to rebuild that modern Frankenstein, are they?"

"Worse than that," Graham answered. "If I’m right, they’re going to use Buffy’s body for the new ADAM soldier." The others fell into shocked silence at these words. Xander’s grip tightened to the point where he broke the teacup he was holding with one bare hand. Willow gasped and Tara instinctively took her hand, desperate to sooth her beloved.

"How? How is this possible?" Giles barked tonelessly, and the others felt a terrible dread at his voice; Ripper was coming out to play.

"Near as I can figure, someone from the Initiative was able to replace her corpse with a dummy, or a cosmetically altered corpse of someone else, just before the funeral. They have her body now, and are planning to use it. And I’m afraid that Riley Finn’s a part of the whole thing."

As Willow weighed the soldier’s news, a terrible image came to her mind; a cold steel table, shiny, shiny tools with so sharp edges. A single light shining directly from above at the figure underneath a sterile white sheet. The sheet being cast aside to reveal the naked corpse underneath, treated with none of the respect it is due as white dressed monsters poke and prod, cut and violate. Buffy, her friend, her truest, closest friend, turned into so much raw material. Circuitry snaking around her body, connecting her to gunmetal grey weaponry.

Willow wasn’t aware that she was hyperventilating until she felt the rim of a plastic bag that someone had fetched from Giles’ kitchen around her mouth. "Here, honey, try to breath slowly," she could hear Tara’s voice from the fog of her mind, as she started to recover from her dizzy spell. "That’s it, Willow, calm slow breaths."

As Willow was regaining her equilibrium, Giles was questioning Graham further; "You said that Riley was part of this…this abomination."


"He went AWOL a couple of weeks ago," Graham explained, "along with several other officers who were with the Initiative originally. I’ve been sent to investigate, and if possible to apprehend Lieutenant Finn. If what I fear is true, I’m to signal my superior in Los Angeles, and she’ll send in the troops to close it down. But I need your help, all of you, to stop Riley, and bring him in." He straightened himself up, and faced the others. "May I count on your cooperation?"

Silence for a moment. Then Willow, speaking for the others, said simply; "Hell yeah!"

========

She knew that she should have stuck to the well-lit main streets, but the sun was still up. She thought she could cut across Whetherly Park quickly and make it back to Giles’ place before sundown. But she had lost track of time with her friends at the mall, and the sun was already halfway down the horizon. She ran faster, hoping that she wouldn’t be accosted by vamps, but ready to deal with them if necessary.

Dawn knew that Giles would be angry with her if he learned that she had started teaching herself some fighting moves. Nothing to fancy, she figured, just enough to throw off any attackers and give her enough time to make a clean getaway. She didn’t entertain any aspirations of being a Slayer; indeed, Giles had heard from the Council that no new Slayer had been called after Buffy died. But she still thought she could avoid any vamps if she had to.

A creak of branches behind her made her stop in her tracks. She stood motionless, listening for any other movements. "Ooh kay," she whispered. "Who’s out there?" She perked her ears as another branch snapped, and flew out away from the snap. She ran hard, in a straight line, making her way out of the park as quickly as possible. Just get back home, she thought, just get back to Giles, before whatever’s out there canUNGH!!!

She picked herself up from the sudden collision with whatever had stepped in front of her. A large figure stood before her in the semi-darkness of dusk, blocking her path. "Watch it, Fang," she shouted at the dark figure. "I don’t know karate, but I know ka-razy!"

"Hey, easy, Dawnie, easy," the figure spoke, in a strangely familiar voice. Dawn blinked, as her eyes grew more accustomed to the low light. She was slowly able to make out the man’s features, and gasped at her sudden recognition. "Riley?"

"Yeah, squirt, it’s me," the soldier greeted her warmly. "I just got back from my assignment in Belize when I heard--" he hesitated, "--about her."

Dawn glared hard at Riley, her expression one of sour displeasure. "Yeah, well I’m still not speaking to you. You hurt her, y’know, ducking out like you did."

"I know, Dawn," he admitted quietly. "First sign of trouble, I took the coward’s way out. I’m not excusing myself there. I’m just sorry that I wasn’t able to make things right with Buffy before it was too late."

Dawn’s expression softened as Riley spoke to her. She still didn’t understand why Buffy and Riley had fallen apart so quickly, but she didn’t blame Riley solely for the fallout. "But it’s gonna be okay now," Riley was saying. "I’m gonna make it right between us."

Dawn looked puzzled at Riley. "What do you mean, make it right?"

Riley didn’t say anything more to her. He just held her in his arms for a second. Before Dawn could ask again, she felt a sharp pinch at the base of her neck. Then, vertigo and blackness.

Riley picked up the slumped teenager and cradled her gently as he carried her to the waiting vehicle. He still didn’t feel comfortable about this, kidnapping an innocent young girl for her blood. Right about then he felt as low as the vampires he used to hunt.

He dismissed these thoughts quickly, his military training taking over. There was an eternal war between the Light and the Dark. And in every war, both sides took on heavy casualties. And if Dawn Summers had to give up her life in order to restore a weapon that would spell the difference between victory and damnation in this war, then so be it.

Riley drove the unconscious girl back to Initiative Headquarters, a grim determination in his eyes. What he was doing was right. He could not start questioning his beliefs now. Not when he was so close to getting Buffy back.

As he drove off, he didn’t notice a pair of darkened, hooded eyes, eyes that witnessed Dawn’s abduction. Eyes that recognized the soldier who committed the crime. Eyes that flashed angry fire as Dawn was carted away.

"That’s it, ya ponce," Spike growled. "I don’t care about the soddin’ chip, I’m gonna rip out your liver and stuff it down your throat before I’m through with ya! No one messes with the Niblet, not on my watch!" He pulled out a cellular and started to dial.

========

"Thanks, Spike," Graham answered. "I’ll tell the others." He folded his cell-phone and faced the others. "They got Dawn," he said, leading to gasps around the room. Giles could feel that familiar burning within him, that part of himself he always called "The Ripper" straining at the leash, demanding to be set free.

"Okay," Xander intoned angrily. "What do we do now?"

"Spike’s tailing the truck where Riley put Dawn," Graham said, "and he’ll inform me when he finds where they took her."

"It seems to me," Giles observed, "that their old site would be the only place where they could be located safely. If they only deserted the service a couple of weeks ago, they haven’t had the time to create a new headquarters, certainly not one with equipment they would require to recreate Adam."

"Good point, Giles," Graham answered. "And Spike said that the truck was heading that general direction from Whetherly Park."

"So let’s saddle up, gang!" Xander announced, springing from his seat. Noticing Anya’s sudden movement from her seat, he stopped her, saying, "No, Anya, not you. Not while you’re pregnant."

Anya leveled a cool glare at her fiancée. "Consider yourself fortunate that I’m not a demon anymore, Xand."

"Hey," Xander defended himself, "I just don’t want anything to happen to my family." He collected Anya in his arms, saying, "The Initiative were tough customers, Ahn, and if they’re gonna turn Buffy into another Adam, I’d rather not have you in the line of fire. Please permit the expectant father his moment of paranoia for your safety, huh?"

Anya warmed her disposition as she usually did under Xander’s ministrations. "Only if you allow me my moment as well, hon. I want you there to change the dirty diapers too, y’know."

"I’m so there," promised Xander. He looked once more in Anya’s eyes, and saw her reluctant acceptance.

"Hey," Tara offered. "Why don’t Anya and I hold down the fort for you guys?" Willow glanced back at Tara, her brow furrowed. "You sure about that, honey?" she asked.

"Hey, like I said last night," Tara was suddenly very interested in her hands as they lay in her lap. "You’re the hero. Go get B-buffy’s body back. She deserves b-better."

A few weeks before Buffy’s death, Willow had noticed how the persistent stutter that Tara suffered from had faded completely. Now, two months after the terrible ordeal Glory had put her through, it was back in full force. She was afraid of losing Tara for good, to her enrollment to Berkeley, and to her old insecurities. Willow’s heart went out to Tara, but the look of determination that rested in her love’s eyes told her all that she needed to know. "Never should have taught you the ‘Resolve Face’," Willow grumped. She gave Tara a brief hug and, her own Resolve Face in place, joined Xander, Giles and Graham.

"You ready?" she asked. The others nodded silently. "Then let’s do it."

Four grim-faced and determined figures departed for the old Initiative headquarters, intent on undoing a terrible evil. To rescue the body of the last true heroine of the twentieth century, and insure that this macabre crime did not go unpunished.

One last mission. For Buffy.

Chapter six
The Modern Prometheus

"I’m mixing up a bunch of magic stuff,

A magic mushroom cloud of care,
A potion that’ll rock, the boat will rock

And make a bomb of love and blow it up!

I did it!
Do you think I’ve gone too far?
I did it!
Guilty as charged.
I did it!
It was me right or wrong.
I did it!
Yeah—


I never did a single thing that did a single thing
To change the ugly ways of the world.
I didn’t know it felt so right inside
I didn’t know it all.
I opened up the curtains
I heard sirens there, the lights flash and crawl
But I did it justice
I just did it for the buzz, oh."

—Dave Matthews

"I Did It"

"Is everything ready?" Riley asked Dr. Brahams as the hypodermic needle punctured the young girl’s skin.

"I don’t see why not, Mr. Finn," Dr. Brahams said as he puttered about. "The young girl, uh, what did you say her name was?"

"Dawn," Riley supplied the name. "Dawn Summers. The Slayer’s sister."

"Ah yes," Dr. Brahams muttered. "Dawn, her blood is almost identical in its genetic structure to Miss Summers’ blood. If it weren’t for the difference in their ages, I would say that they were twins." He taped a tube to Dawn’s arm, and fed the other end of the tube to the i. v. device affixed to the mummified figure on the gurney next to Dawn. "We’ll take the transfusion slow. Too much of her blood at once may place the test subject’s body into shock. Besides, we must allow Dawn to recover from her blood loss. We may need her blood later, nicht vahr?"

"Indeed," Riley nodded as he observed Dr. Brahams continuing his ministrations. He hated the Germanic doctor, his haughty superiority, his treatment of the body wrapped in gauze as a ‘test subject’.

The ‘test subject’s’ name was Buffy Summers. She had been a vibrant, beautiful and dedicated woman, one who was plunged into a world she had no desire to enter, a world of dark shadows and soulless beasts. She gave all, up to and including her life, to protect the world from the things that went bump in the night.

And if what they planned tonight was a success, she would live again.

She would know that Riley Finn was the instrument of her salvation. And she would love him for it.

She would be his again. That’s all that mattered.

And if that meant suffering the smug self-righteousness of the Dr. Brahamses of the world, then it was a small price for Riley Finn to pay, to be allowed to hold her and make love to her again.

She would be his.

========

"Spike," Graham called on his cellular as he and the others drove toward their rendezvous. "Can you verify their location?"

"Yep," Spike whispered into his cellular, "the old hangout. What’s the plan, Number Two?"

"Would you please stop calling me that?" Graham asked, knowing that the question was in vain. It galled him, this forced partnership with Spike; from what Graham had gathered he’d have been vile enough as a human, as a vampire he was simply evil. Sighing in resignation, he continued; "I’ve got the rest of the gang here with me, we’re driving up that way right now. Giles’ll take Xander and Willow in his team, I’ll meet you at the main entrance. We’ll enter from both points."

"Sounds like you’re making it up as you go along," Spike mused. "I like that, mate. Meet ya here, Number Two." Spike shut off the connection before the soldier could protest. He smiled, imagining his chagrin at his nickname. Yeah, he could feel that familiar bloodlust emerge, as though from an extended hibernation. Chip or no chip, he had warned Graham the previous evening. Chip or no chip, someone was going to die for profaning her grave.

And Spike could feel his incisors extend at the thought.

========

No words were spoken as the four of them emerged from Giles’ car. Their expressions of quiet determination and righteous anger spoke volumes. They knew the plan, and were as prepared as they could be to carry it out.

They waited by the car for Spike to emerge. The neutered vampire obliged them easily. His grim, stoic demeanor surprised Willow and the others. He had none of the bluster, none of his trademark arrogance. In its place stood a grim purpose. He was a man with a mission, a knight riding forth to avenge the desecration of his lady’s grave. When he met the others, he only had one thing to say; "Let’s do it, people."

The others silently agreed, and Graham and Spike ventured toward the front door. The vampire and soldier waited for the three Scoobs to make their exit then approached the entrance. Graham went first; he had an idea where the wires and alarms were, and knew how to pass through without activating them. In one instance, he was able to bluff his way past with his old Initiative ID card. Apparently the fools had forgotten to de-classify him. Spike followed the soldier’s lead as they passed through the front door and through the first hallway.

"This way," Graham whispered, pointing to an emergency stairway. "The only place where they could do whatever they’re doing to Buffy and Dawn is in the basement, in the labs where Adam was created."

"HOSTILE!" someone shouted from the hall as Spike reached for the stairway door. "We got a hostile here!" Two guards rushed toward Graham and Spike, high-tech looking rifles at the ready.

Spike stood his ground, his arrogance apparent in his posture. "Hostile? Me? Not yet, boys, but just keep waving those pig-stickers in my face and I will get hostile."

"Just keep ‘em where I can see ‘em," the lead guard answered. Spike leered at the guard, and took a step forward. The guard fired his rifle, and an arc of blue-white energy leapt over the vampire’s head.

"That was a warning shot, Hostile 17," the guard shouted, "my next one won’t miss!"

"Oh, please," Spike purred, stepping closer to the guard. "Call me Spike. Everyone else does."

"Yeah, we know you, 17," the guard’s voice was loud but not convincingly forceful. Spike could smell the epinephrine in the guard’s sweat; he could smell his fear. He found that smell sweet and pungent. "We know that you can’t touch us without doubling over in pain, thanks to that chip in your head."

Spike regarded the rifles that the two guards were holding. "Issat so? Then why, oh why, did your superiors arm you with EMP rifles?" He stepped closer, as the guard stuck the gun’s tip into his chest. He shrugged it off, knowing that the two guards were too scared to act on their own. "You know what EMP means, don’t you? That’s Electro-Magnetic Pulse. And electromagnetic pulses tend to disrupt microcircuitry. Oh yeah. You just shorted out my chip, buddy. So I can do," he leaned in, his face morphing into his vamp mode, "anything to you that I want." He leaned further, until his yellowish eyes were inches away from the guard’s eyes. He smiled and whispered, "This is the part where you drop your guns and run away to warn your superiors. BOO!"

Two rifles clattered to the floor as their wielders ran from the living nightmare that leered over them. Spike stooped low and picked up the two rifles, tossing one to Graham. "Here ya go, partner. Try not to miss."

Graham looked at the rifle, and then back to Spike. "Hey, this isn’t an EMP rifle, it’s a standard issue stun-rifle."

Spike examined his weapon. "So it is, so it is. Tell ya what, you don’t tell Stan and Cartman, and neither will I." Heading for the door, he continued, "Come on, man, our cover’s two seconds away from being blown." A siren hacked through the air, screaming out warning. The two fighters charged down the stairs, toward the labs.

========

Willow led the way down the elevator shaft, with Xander and Giles close behind. She looked around her as they silently rappelled down the shaft. You’re a strange girl, Willow Rosenberg. Only you could get nostalgic about an elevator shaft.

It was here, over a year ago, where she had reconciled with Buffy after their blowout over Tara. Spike had tried to turn the gang against each other, and the newly born romance between Willow and Tara was just the perfect sticking point. The fact that Buffy had been too involved with Riley Finn and the Initiative to see how Willow was changing.

He was sent by Adam to shake up the gang, to strip Buffy of her support structure before her final battle with Adam. But Spike had failed. As Buffy and the others made their way down the shaft, she, Willow and Xander stopped long enough to renew that special bond.

"I love you, Buffy," Willow had said. "You’re my best friend."

She found herself fighting back tears as she recalled the group hug that they had engaged in over thirty feet off the ground, suspended by their rappelling ropes. Somehow, that connection was still there and would always be there, no matter how much they changed. Willow was not the same fragile girl she was five years ago. Xander was no longer the insecure goof. Cordelia, from what Angel had told them, was not the same flighty social butterfly. All these changes brought about by Buffy.

And it was out of respect to Buffy that they were here this evening. To undo the sick dream of a group of misguided individuals. To prevent them from recreating Adam, in Buffy’s body.

They had to succeed. Willow wouldn’t accept any less, for her best friend.

The sudden wail of an alarm siren cut through her thoughts like an ax through dry timber. "Guys," she announced, "we’d better speed it up!" She paid out more rope faster, and sped her descent down the shaft.

Once they reached the next available elevator door, Xander was able to jimmy the door open, and the three slipped out of the shaft. They looked around, keeping close to the wall, in order to get their bearings. Willow recognized this hallway from the last time they were here, the final battle with ADAM. And there was something else, something familiar about her surroundings--

Her musings were silenced by the sound of hurried footfalls down the corridor. The sound brought her to a quick state of concentration. A squad of four security guards was racing down the hallway. Giles and Xander flattened themselves against the wall, fearful that their cover’s been blown. They knew that there was nowhere to hide from the advancing guards.

The guards double-timed past them, uncaring of their presence.

Giles and Xander looked at the guards as they ran past them, relieved but concerned as to how they went unnoticed. Xander glanced toward Willow, and saw the knowing smile on her face. "Care to share, oh great sorceress?"

Willow faked an innocent gaze. "Nothing much, just a little ‘Jedi Mind Trick’. I encouraged them to see what they expected to see, nothing more."

"Hmm," Giles mused. "Very good. But judging from the heightened activity around here, we must assume that Spike acted with somewhat less subtlety."

"I say following those guards is as good a plan as any." Xander suggested. "Wherever they got Buffy’s body stashed is probably the most closely guarded room here. We follow them, we find Buffy and Dawn."

"Then let’s do it." Willow nodded. The three friends pursued the guards.

========

"Bloody hell," Riley cursed under his breath. "What’s going on out there?"

"Intruders have entered the compound," a security officer called in on the intercom. "They’re heading straight toward you!"

"Send more guards over here, to safeguard the experiment," Dr. Brahams ordered. "She must not be disturbed at this delicate stage of the process!"

Before Dr. Brahams could get back to his monitors and readouts, the door flew off its hinges, impacted by the force of a flying kick. Spike stood before the scientists, his face contorted into a mask of terror, a horrible gleam in his yellow eyes. "Okay mates," he intoned, "who dies first?"

Riley jumped forward, his arms resting at his side in a defensive posture. "Bring it on, dead man," he hissed. "You can’t do anything to me."

"Keep believing that, ponce!" Spike stepped forward, his every movement flowing, almost liquid—

Until the chip that governed his actions for the last two years kicked in, that is. Scientists at the Initiative had designed the chip, to induce terrible pain in Spike if he should ever attempt to harm anything living. Now, as he lunged toward the deserter, his vision red-misted with rage, his intent to kill the bastard who dared lay unclean hands to Buffy’s body, the chip kicked in. His body jerked suddenly as though crushed in a giant’s hand. But he wasn’t going to let that stop him. He would not be deterred from dealing a portion of the pain he experienced to Riley.

A thousand lances pierced his flesh, and still he moved forward. A thousand fires scalded his skin, and still he moved forward. A thousand tons crushed his bones, and still he moved forward. With every iota of his strength, he resisted the chip, willing his legs to carry him, step by step, toward his target.

All he could see was the smugly grinning face of Riley Finn. All he desired was to wipe that grin off his face with a well-thrown punch. That desire sustained him, helping him block the excruciating pain created by the chip long enough for him to pull his fist back and let it fly with all his remaining power.

The foolish soldier didn’t even think to defend himself. He found himself flat on his back, his chin bruised and bleeding, from the force of Spike’s blow. By then, the release of the blow forced Spike to double over with the pain he still felt, long enough for security officers to restrain him. As the pain subsided, he lifted his head toward the sprawled soldier, and grinning, said "Gotcha!"

"That’ll do, Spike," a voice behind him said. Graham had watched the vampire’s display, and felt somewhat relieved that they were in the same camp for now. He stood over Riley’s body, and offered a hand to lift his old friend to his feet.

Riley refused the offer. "I know why you’re here," he said bitterly, his hand massaging the welt on his chin. "You’re here to arrest me for desertion, right?"

"I’m sorry, Riley," Graham said, "but I have no choice. If you and the others surrender now, I may put in a good word, make sure that the JAG goes easy on you."

"Sorry, Graham, but I can’t do that. Not when we’re so close to completing the experiment. We’re bringing her back, Graham. We’re bringing Buffy back."

"Are you insane? Look at this place, Riley, and ask yourself how you could possibly side with these monsters. The Initiative, what they did, that was evil, Riley. How could you become part of that evil again?"

"You’re wrong, Graham," Riley countered. "Sure, ADAM was evil, Maggie Walsh may have been evil, but this place, what we’re trying to do here, this is not evil. Don’t you see? We’re on the verge of restoring the best of us. The best soldier I’ve ever seen. The greatest hero I’ve ever known!"

Graham shook his head in disbelief at how blind his friend had become. "Yeah, I know what you’re up to. You’re trying to resurrect the dead. You honestly think that the ADAM project will work on her? Do you believe that that… thing that comes out of that cocoon will bear any resemblance to the Buffy Summers you knew?"

"I don’t know what’ll happen," Riley admitted, "but if she lives, then the fall of the first Initiative will not have been in vain."

"The Initiative was a mistake, Riley," Graham pleaded. "We tried to make super-soldiers out of demons. We tried to resurrect soulless things, and thought we could control them. What we did was immoral, an abomination against nature."

"You want an abomination?" Riley shouted. "What about that thing? He’s still allowed to live, while Buffy’s dead! That ain’t right! And when I’m through, that mistake will be corrected."

"What about Dawn?" Graham asked. "Does she have to die for your mad scheme?"

"Don’t worry about her," Riley answered. "She’ll live. We’re not going to lose her. Her blood is too valuable for us. And you really have no say in this matter Graham." He gestured toward the security officers who held an angered Spike in their restraints. "It’s just the two of you against all of us."

"Let me guess," a familiar voice called out, "you flunked math in high school." Willow, Xander and Giles entered the room, Willow taking point. Two of the guards tried to rush them, but Willow just shot them a sour look, and a force pushed them back, away from the three interlopers. "Oh, don’t look too surprised, Lieutenant Poop-head. You desecrated the grave of my best friend, and you didn’t expect me to come back for her?"

Riley regarded Willow’s face, her expression, her posture. Her eyes flashed an angry fire, her jaw rigid and set in hatred, her posture defiant and angry. "So," Riley mocked. "This is the part where you beat me to death with a shovel?"

"Shovel?" Willow answered in a feigned innocence. "I don’t need a shovel." With an angry gesture, Willow threw Riley’s body against the wall with the force of a large truck. The second Riley impacted the wall, the guards let go of Spike, and rushed toward Willow.

"Back off!" she shouted, and the guards were thrown back, not as forcefully as Riley, but hard enough to knock the wind out of them. Her attention turned from Riley, he collapsed to the floor in a disheveled heap. He managed to stumble back to his feet, but he recognized that Willow wanted him dead, and had the power to back up her anger.

"Willow, listen to me," he pleaded. "Look, I’m sorry about kidnapping Dawn, but it was necessary for the experiment to succeed. Don’t you see? We’re this close to bringing her back! Bringing back your best friend!"

"My best friend?" Willow cried, desperately trying to control the rage that threatened to overtake her voice. "My best friend is nowhere here. She died saving the world from Glory. All you have is her body, the box that carried her spirit."

She approached Riley, her face softening. She looked at the young soldier’s face, and thought she could see the young man who Buffy loved, even for all his shortcomings, all his mistakes. She pleaded with that man, hoping to reach him through kindness. "Buffy--all that was really her, her soul, her strength, her heart--those things are gone forever. You can’t bring them back, no matter how advanced your technology. She’s gone, Riley." She reached out her hand to him, silently offering to wipe the tears that began to fall from his eyes. "I’m sorry. I loved her too. And I’ll miss her every day of my life. But I’ll have those days, we’ll both have those days, because of her sacrifice."

Riley measured her words, heard her voice, looked into her eyes, and saw that there was no artifice, no sense of lying. He felt the sincerity emanating from her. He reached his hand out to hers, to accept the truth of her words.

"Finn!" Dr. Brahams suddenly shouted. "We have vital signs! She may be coming around!"

Riley suddenly jerked away from Willow, who stepped back in fear of the nearly insane smile that split his face. "You were wrong, Willow," he laughed. "She is coming back!" He rushed toward the gurney, as Dr. Brahams hurriedly unraveled the gauze bandages that swathed the body. Willow tried to stop Riley, but the guards she threw back suddenly grabbed her and the others, restraining them.

After unveiling several layers of gauze, Dr. Brahams stopped with just the final layer remaining around Buffy’s body, just covering her breasts and midsection. For a moment, Willow, looking on from a distance, found herself thinking that Buffy made a rather sexy mummy. Dr. Brahams then grabbed a pair of defibrillator paddles, ready to jolt the body to life if necessary. "Riley," he commanded, "check her vital signs."

He started to rattle off figures; "Pulse is 40 over 120, slow but gaining. Breathing is getting stronger." Suddenly her eyes snapped open. Riley shone a pen light into her eyes. "Eyes dilated, but tracking. She’s gaining consciousness! We’re doing it!"

"Dear God," Giles whispered. "Is it possible that they will succeed? That they’ve actually brought Buffy back?"

"That’s not Buffy, not our Buffy," Willow answered, sorrow consuming her. "They may have reanimated her body, but they can’t bring back her soul."

"And whatever comes out of their Frankenstein’s Science Fair project," Xander added, "I don’t think we’re gonna like it."

Riley and Dr. Brahams stood back in silence, as the figure on the gurney slowly raised her body to an upright position. Slowly, as though relearning how to move her muscles, she turned her head toward the young man to her left. "Ri…Ri…Riley? Riley Finn?"

"Yeah, Buffy," Riley answered, overjoyed. "It’s me, Riley."

"You…you left me," she said haltingly. "You said…I…never loved you."

"I know, and I’m so sorry. But it’ll be different now. I know better…"

Riley looked into Buffy’s eyes, and slowly started to blanch. Buffy suddenly smiled at Riley, saying, "You were right." With blinding speed, she brought her hand to his head, and clamped her fingers down hard on his scalp. Riley yelped silently in pain as the resurrected woman seized his head. This went on for ten seconds, before she let go of the hapless soldier. She then let go, and he fell gracelessly to the floor.

Graham rushed to his friend, taking his pulse and checking his eyes. "Riley, you okay?"

Riley looked at Graham blankly. "The stars," he murmured. "I can see stars inside you. They’re so beautiful."

Willow gasped in terror. She had seen this happen before, when an evil woman grabbed the head of her beloved, her Tara, and leeched her mind from her. She exchanged looks with Spike, Giles and Xander, and their horrified expressions told her that they had arrived at the same conclusion.

Dr. Brahams glared at the risen Slayer. "What did you do to him?" he demanded.

"What, that?" she asked nonchalantly? "Something like…THIS!" She grabbed his head in one hand and pulled back sharply, snapping his neck. The guards, shaken from their state of shock, rushed the gurney. The Slayer jumped off, and delivered a lightning attack of kicks and punches, too fast for any eye to follow. Within seconds, she stood alone, amid a pile of broken bodies. Blood dried on her hands and in the ends of her tangled blond hair. Her smile reminded the Scoobs of a predator, of a wolf or a shark, just before making the kill.

She walked casually toward the bed where an unconscious Dawn was being kept. Heart monitors and other diagnostic equipment pinged away steadily, displaying her life signs silently. "And how are we tonight, my little key?" she purred as she caressed her sister’s cheek.

She then turned toward the others and laughed. "What’s the matter, friends? Aren’t you glad to see me?" The others stood silently, unable to speak, gripped by a terror greater than anything they could imagine. The greatest evil they had ever faced was among them again, and this time, they had no slayer to protect them.

"Face it, guys," she announced triumphantly. "I’m back, and in all my Glory!"

Continue to Chapters 7-End

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